radonitsa

What holiday is this:
Before lunch, reap,
After lunch, weep,
And in the evening, leap?

- Belarusian riddle  about Radonitsa

Today Slavic Orthodox throughout the world observe (in Russian)  Radonitsa , the Day of Rejoicing. A sort of eastern “All Souls Day,” it is devoted to prayers for the departed, often before a meal consumed at the gravesite of a loved one (the photo above was taken in a Belarusian cemetery ).

Among other things , Radonitsa marks the beginning of “marriage season,” as weddings may not be conducted during Great Lent, Holy Week, Pascha, or Bright Week.

Prayers for the dead are very important in the Orthodox tradition, and as such we have  several days marked for them throughout the liturgical year. As Fr. Schmemann writes ,

Praying for them we meet them in Christ who is Love and who, because He is Love, overcomes death which is the ultimate victory of separation and lovelessness. In Christ there is no difference between living and dead because all are alive in Him . . . . Loving Christ, we love all those who are in Him; loving those who are in Him, we love Christ: this is the law of the Church and the obvious rationale for her of prayer for the dead.

It is truly our love in Christ that keeps them alive because it keeps them “in Christ,” and how wrong, how hopelessly wrong, are those Western Christians who either reduce prayer for the dead to a juridical doctrine of “merits” and “compensations” or simply reject it as useless.


However, because of the great and central importance of the Feast of Feasts, memorial services for the dead are forbidden  between Holy Thursday and Antipascha (the first Sunday after Pascha): “the first opportunity after Pascha to remember the dead is on the second Monday of Pascha. However, because in Orthodox countries a number of monasteries follow the custom of fasting on Mondays, the feast is often celebrated on Tuesday, so that all may partake of the paschal foods (which are intentionally non-fasting).”

Radonitsa is often marked by excessive drinking and wild revelry, both in the cemetery and elsewhere. Patricia Herlihy in ” Joy of the Rus’: Rites and Rituals of Russian Drinking ,” examines the relationship between holy days and getting hosed:

Though it often gave scandal to the pious, religious holidays were drinking days. The close connection in Russian culture between religious observances and alcohol consumption is evident in a folk tale about a village drunkard who dies and seeks admission to heaven. St. Peter at first tries to send him away, but the drunkard retorts: “I drank and praised God with every swallow, but you denied Christ three times, and you are in heaven!” He similarly reduces to shame and silence St. Paul, Kings David and Solomon, Nicholas the Wonder-worker, and others, and had to be allowed a seat in heaven.

From Pascha til the Feast of the Ascension, we sing “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life”—sung sober or otherwise, it does seem fit to ring out over actual tombs.

Articles by Tristyn K. Bloom

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